Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015)
anonymous Mar 27th, 2010 3:45pm report
The first time I heard this song it touched me. Both the melody and the words are really powerful. This is my interpretation.
The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's. Hallelujah can be said in many different circumstances.
Lennard Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.
There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, other have already explained these references in great detail.
There are many versions of this song. Even LC did not always sing the same verses.
I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.
I believe this is about unmatched intrests in a relationship.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
The man (David) falls in love, but the relation is not a healty one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his powers. It is a distructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of dispair.
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting.
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his hart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.
There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
The conclusion of the song: Here LC turns from looking back to looking forward.
We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated him.
This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.
Most of the interpretations I have heard refer to biblical stories and of course it is impossible to ignore the analogies with King David and Bathsheba. However,I think these can obscure the meaning of the song and I would rather go beyond them. Analyzing a poem line by line sometimes misses the core of meaning which may actually be not fully realized by the poet himself.What after all was Kubla Khan, Coleridges poem about? It came out of a drug-induced reverie and the words are impossible to interpret literally.
What I see in the poem is a man who finds it hard to reconcile his own singular personal quest for truth as a spiritual seeker and as a creative artist with earthly love.He is "overthrown" by the beauty of the woman bathing on the roof and intoxicated with desire for her yet with that comes compromise.Being tied to a kitchen chair suggests being bound to domesticity and having his hair cut recalls Samson whose strength was lost when Delilah cut his hair.He feels he has sacrificed his power for ephemeral sexual desire,emotional needs and freedom from the burden of loneliness.
And inevitably the hallelujah, the ecstasy fades and withit bitterness and disillusionment since his lover has no feeling for creativity as evidenced by her lack of interest in music,his explanation of which seems to fall on deaf ears.
At the same time,the sexual magnetism, "down below" has diminished or even gone in the way that the energy of many relationships weaken into dead habit.
So there is a sense he has been left with nothing, doubting a god above and likening earthly love to a gunfight.It is as if he has betrayed his deepest yearnings and is only left with a cold and broken hallelujah, an empty exhortation, a state of inner desolation.
Yet the tone of the song is so bittersweet, so beautiful and sad that there might be a suggestion that he has reconciled those feelings and accepted the limits of the relationship,knowing that even sharing a life with someone cannot assuage his inner loneliness.
Hallelujah is a beautiful,ironic and melancholy masterpiece.
anonymous Sep 3rd, 2016 9:49pm report
This song is about David's relationship with God and at the same time Leonard Cohen's. This interpretation is not based on this song only but the words of some of LC's others. He speaks a lot about recognizing his brokenness. I refer to the four verse version rather than the six verse.
The first is about the "secret chord David played that pleased the Lord." There is no such secret music chord, that chord is repentance from the mistake he made with Bathsheba. "But you do not care for music (repentance) do you". "It goes like this the fourth the fifth, the minor fall" (David's transgression), "the major lift" (David's restitution subsequent to his repentance Ps 51, after the prophet Nathan had pointed out his sin). "The King of battle, (which David was) composing hallelujah" or praise the Lord. David wrote many of the Psalms including many of praise. LC had experienced similar events in his life which were also transgressions (he spoke to himself about this is the song 'going home')
The second verse is David's faith "your was strong (had killed a lion, a bear and Goliath) but you needed proof" and then he saw her (Bathsheba) on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you" (David and LC). The point being that none of us knows whether we can withstand enough temptation. The beauty and moonlight can overthrow us. His sin with Bathsheba overthrew him until he repented. This pleased the Lord. LC draws an analogy with the Samson-Delilah incident. She tied him to a kitchen chair, she broke his throne and cut his hair and from Davids mouth she drew (removed) David's desire to praise God.
Third verse, "you say I took His name in vain". Here LC is referring about himself and the life which he feels has not been as God-honoring as it could have been. "But I don't even know the name" (LC is searching after God including within the teachings of Christ. He refers to this often in other songs of his, for example that he does not understand the sermon on the mount). This is a deep sermon that many Christians also do not understand. LC understands a lot more than he lets on. "But if I did really what is it to you". We are not to judge the actions of others in that way. "There is a blaze of light in every word, it does not matter what you heard the holy or the broken, hallelujah". God is light (1 Jn 1:5) and when one speaks to God, whether out of brokenness (LC is very conscious of his) or holiness (no human is holy, but some may not feel the extreme sense of brokenness that LC does).
Fourth verse "I did my best, it was not much, I couldn't feel so I tried to touch (Read Act 17:27 in KJV where Paul explains to people on Mars Hill, that people seek God by feeling after Him that they might find Him, yet he is not far from us). "I've told the truth, I did not come to fool you". LC is telling us the truth of his life in this song. "and even though it all went wrong" (LC is repentant of many things in his life - he alone knows the extent), "I'll stand before the Lord of Song (God), with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah (praise). LC is aware that although he has fallen God will restore him like David. LC (like all of us) has nothing to offer but repentance, but God will honor that.
LC is a deeply spiritual man, spent 6 years in a monastery. He is acutely aware of how he has fallen and tells himself in many of his songs that he will be restored one day. Listen to LCs songs 'come healing", 'going home' (where he talks to himself and assures himself that he will leave behind his burden) and also 'anthem' where our brokenness is necessary for light to enter.
In many ways LC is reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy, a fellow human who was also tempted and felt too weak to withstand it, in spite of wanting to do otherwise. May God bless LC and many other of our fellow humans so troubled. May God have mercy on others of us who are not at all troubled about our transgressions.
anonymous Apr 17th, 19:17 report
To: Anonymous September 3, 2016 9:49 pm
W0W! Shut MY mouth... I'm not even gonna try after THAT...
anonymous Apr 15th, 4:42pm report
No doubt, this is a beautiful song. It's like a tonic and has an almost sedative like effect on me any time I listen to it. The gentle, beautiful melody and religious references make it seem almost harmless. The genius of this song is that there are so many darker elements of love hiding in plain sight right there in the lyrics.
"Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you"
Any interpretations I've read on these lines miss what's staring them straight in the face. "Your faith was strong but you needed proof" this line seems obvious enough to me. He'd noticed her and was struck by her beauty but he wanted to see more...he needed proof. "You saw her bathing on the roof" You automatically assume she was sunbathing on the roof BUT "Her beauty and the MOONLIGHT overthrew you". She can't have been sunbathing in the moonlight, can she. She was having a bath, he was on the roof, at night, spying on her.
If I wasn't so drunk I'd go through some of the other verses but when you listen/read them think of a horny young man who tries to seduce a girl who seems naive and inexperienced but on into the relationship he realises he's the one out of his depth.
anonymous Apr 12th, 4:41pm report
Simple- we give praise to God even through the pain and heart ache that life deals us. We give uplifting joyful Hallelujahs when life is happy and sad broken Hallelujahs when at times we feel we can't go on. We may not even feel it at the time but by giving praise with that broken Hallelujah we show we are not giving up. We know some where deep inside that God has not forsaken us. This song is beautiful, inspirational and powerful.
anonymous Mar 23rd, 3:45pm report
Praise the lord, praise god, the god of music, paradise and hell, of victory, defeat, of joy, despair, of love and hatred, of kitchens, battles, work and leisure, war and peace and youth and age, health and disease, freedom and desire, the beginning, being, ending of all and everything existing, however you feel, whatever happens and whatever you do!
anonymous Mar 21st, 3:58am report
The reason the lyrics of this song are so beautiful is because of the double and triple meanings in all of the verses. As you read the reviews you start to realize that multiple interpretations are correct. It takes a lot of thought from a brilliant mind to speak to people from all walks of life in the same sentence, covering an entire gamut of beliefs and emotional states, each able to conclude a different meaning. I guess one could call it biblical in its own right.
anonymous Feb 19th, 2:51pm report
This song reveals both kinds of love: spiritual and intimate. Both are equally disappointing, yet yearned for. It is a mourning cry for acceptance through both kinds of love, yet unrequited. Acceptance of this rejection is mournfully expressed. It is a fact of living after being abandoned, twice.
anonymous Jan 31st, 1:14am report
Life hits you in different ways no one ever knows what can be next love hate despair fulfillment loneliness you can fall in love and tell the world is for ever next thing you know you are alone sitting in a coffee shop a book store a restaurant contaplating those happy couples that look so much in love and looking at your self and realizing oh my God I am all alone in a human way and than asking God to comfort you and help you and than too you could be one of those happy people of couples being contaplated by someone else going through those exacts thouhgts and emotions . Isn't life beautiful and at other times you are hurting too much to even want to think about those are all the different hallelujahs amen we all have to face them ...
anonymous Jan 6th, 1:44am report
Someone said we needed to know Leonard's interpretation of this song. Here is Leonard said:
Leonard Cohen explained: "Hallelujah is a Hebrew word which means 'Glory to the Lord.' The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist. I say: All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value.
Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley Songfacts
anonymous Jan 4th, 1:41pm report
Praise to god for the good the bad and the ugly for that is life.
anonymous Dec 21st, 12:30pm report
Knowing a little about LC's life may be helpful out. He was raised in a conservative Jewish family and his father was a Talmudic Scholar. Early in his life he was an admired and prolific poet. His poems, essays, and interviews made it clear he was in a life long struggle to understand God, which included a few years formally studying Buddhism. But, he always said that he was Jewish and had not abandoned his faith, and while he was not strict in his observance, when he passed away this year we learned he had requested a an Orthodox Jewish service.
So, what does that tell us about the song. 1st it helps to understand the subtle difference between the Jewish and Christian meaning of the word Hallelujah. For Christians it is a word of praise for God, a nown..."I Praise You". But in Hebrew, it is a direction, a verb...(You/We) "Give Praise to God". So, what LC is saying in all the stanzas is that he (we) must still give praise to God, even when we are "cold & broken".
His original recorded version only had the four verses that related to God and the struggle of faith. Years later he added the three new verses clearly related to the joy and pain of human love. In the Jewish faith, the joy in sex is one of God's gifts and to LC it had a spiritual dimension.
LC once claimed to have written many more verses for the song/poem? that were never published.
So, in the end it is an uplifting poem about the struggle to see the and understand the gifts of God. And, while LC was a Jew, he saw this as a common struggle for people of faith. And, as a poet, he would not be upset if you found your own meaning in his words. And, that's why he never bothered to explain them.
anonymous Dec 18th, 12:57pm report
I agree with the first one, but by no means think it has anything to do with Christmas.
anonymous Dec 18th, 12:58am report
I think it is about our imperfect lives that God will accept in the end.
anonymous Dec 6th, 12:20pm report
I think we needed Mr Cohen's explanation. Why was it never sought? All I can say is the first two verses are spiritual.
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